As president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), Gettysburg College alumnus Wayne Hasenbalg ’76 brings good times to the Garden State.
He oversees all of the NJSEA’s facilities, including MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, and the American Dream entertainment complex at the Meadowlands.
Hasenbalg, who previously served as deputy chief of staff for policy and planning in the Governor’s Office, was offered the position by Gov. Chris Christie more than two years ago and entrusted with pulling off the first-ever mass transit Super Bowl.
“One of the big reasons he wanted me to take the job was Super Bowl XLVIII,” Hasenbalg said. “He reminded me why it was so important to him and the state—we needed to put a great face on it for New Jersey.”
The challenge was unlike any in National Football League history. On Super Bowl week, tens of thousands of fans swarmed the Meadowlands—in the heart of winter—from hotels scattered across two of our nation’s most populated states.
Meanwhile, more than half of the Meadowlands’ 26,000 parking spots were occupied by temporary structures and television production spaces, as well as security checkpoints to ensure the safety of all 82,529 attendees as they entered the stadium.
And just to add a bit more pressure, 112 million people were watching on television—making it the single most viewed program in U.S. history.
“Our committees had to address contingencies for everything—weather, transit, roads, police, security, community relations,” Hasenbalg explained. “It was the first-ever two state Super Bowl, so you have people moving back and forth. Plus, 35 percent of the tickets go to teams in the Super Bowl, so Denver and Seattle fans needed to make last-minute transit decisions.”
Hasenbalg was responsible for a working group that assembled state government resources behind the scenes, including New Jersey Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Department of Transportation, the State Police, the National Guard, the Treasury Department, and the state’s Office of Homeland Security.
“There was no model on how to do this. It was completely new to the NFL,” said Hasenbalg of the Super Bowl, which was also the first to be held in an open-air stadium in a “cold-weather” city.
But much like the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 victory in the game, Super Bowl XLVIII proved to be a big win for Hasenbalg, his team, and the state of New Jersey.
“You could hear the roar and buzz in this stadium; the performance of the national anthem; and the Black Hawk helicopters flying over and the power of those all at one time—it wasn’t like any other football game that I had been to,” he said.
“In that moment, I was thinking of the two years of work that went into making it happen, and wishing I was with [Al] Kelly (president and CEO of the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee) and Christie to thank them for the role I played in this.”
Only a few months removed from that unforgettable February evening, New Jersey and New York residents are already clamoring for another Super Bowl bid.
“It is really gratifying to hear that,” said Hasenbalg, who also expects to bring the Formula One Grand Prix auto race to the Meadowlands region in 2015. “You only get that [response] if you’ve proven you’ve done a great job. It feels good.”
Hasenbalg credits the education that he received at Gettysburg College for providing him with the confidence needed to execute such massive events like the Super Bowl or WWE’s WrestleMania 29, an 80,000-person event held in April 2013 that attracted fans from 34 different countries and contributed $101 million to the region.
“I can tell you, honestly, going to Gettysburg made all the difference in the world—it’s all because of my parents and Gettysburg,” Hasenbalg said. “I really grew up there and left a different person than I came. I really thank the College for my experience.”